Going through a contentious divorce can be an excruciating public affair. All of the dirty laundry gets aired out in public, through hearings or court filings. Even after the divorce is finalized, the information contained in the entire divorce file remains available, permanently, for the public to see and view. Due to this, it only stands to reason that there would be reasons to avoid public scrutiny of your divorce files. You don’t have to be a celebrity for people to be interested in your private life. What can a person do?
The Classification of Legal Documents in Texas
All legal documents in Texas are grouped into one of four specific categories:
- Public Documents: these are documents that anyone can view.
- Confidential Documents: these are the documents that are restricted to viewing by the parties involved and by their attorneys of record.
- Restricted Documents: documents that are both marked and filed as sensitive material.
- Sealed Documents: these documents are sealed from view of the general public.
To restrict your divorce documents, it is necessary to begin by designating each pleading as containing sensitive data. Such “sensitive data” can include birthdates, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and additional personal information. By marking documents as containing sensitive data, does not seal the document but it does prevent them from being posted on the court’s website. A simple method to avoid providing too much information to people who don’t need it is to only identify social security numbers, bank accounts and other sensitive items with only the last three or four numbers of each being used. This way information can be identified but the full extent of these items can be kept from the general public.
In some instances, though, simply classifying documents as confidential may not be enough. The parties in a divorce may want their proceedings to be made confidential and may allow the court to allow documents to be sealed. The judge will make a determination on whether or not their request will be granted. Under Texas Rules of Civil Procedure court records may be sealed only upon a party’s written motion.
Court records may be sealed only upon a party’s written motion, which shall be open to public inspection. The movant (the party making the motion) shall post a public notice at the place where notices for meetings of county governmental bodies are required to be posted, stating:
- That a hearing will be held in open court on a motion to seal court records in the specific case;
- That any person may intervene and be heard concerning the sealing of court records;
- The specific time and place of the hearing.
Upon making a motion, what must be proven? The standard that a party must meet to keep a record confidential is that in doing so:
- The sealing of the record will not have an adverse effect on the public health or safety of the citizens of the state,
- That the matters involved should not be made available to the general public, and
- There are no less restrictive means than sealing records will adequately and effectively protect.
The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure do not allow a Court to simply seal the entire court file, rather a person that is wishing to seal court records must meet their burden as to each record, and each portion of each record. This can be a very complicated and time-consuming process.
Exception For Family Law Cases
The Texas Rule of Civil Procedure specifically states that court records that are filed under the Family Code are not “court records” for the purposes of the rules regarding sealing documents. In other words, family law cases, such as divorces, do not need to meet the same standard for civil cases set forth in Texas Rule of Civil Procedure in order to seal court records. When it comes to a family law matter, such as divorce, custody, child support, or other family law matter. The one and only exception to this rule states that any Order or Opinion that was rendered by the Court may not be sealed. Due to this, family law records are generally sealed upon a request by the Court.
So in a short and simple answer, yes divorce and court records can be sealed, upon a request to the Court. Navigating through the legal system regarding divorce can be tough, which is why consulting with a divorce attorney such as Brandy Austin Law Firm, PLLC may be beneficial.